A North Texas student says after his bad experiences with two different mobile dent repair businesses he wanted to warn others to steer clear of drive-up, fix-it auto repairmen whose promises and prices seem too good to be true.
Joshua Bissonette is a cash-strapped college student trying to finish up school after serving in the U.S. Army. With his car in need of repair, Bissonette turned to Craigslist and found an ad for “mobile auto body” repair men who fix dents and damage at a person’s “work or home” for “less than a traditional” body shop.
He decided to give them a try.
“They got to work right away,” said Bissonette. “They started prying the dent out. It seemed like they knew what they were doing.”
But he soon learned otherwise.
“The dents look gone, but it doesn’t look good,” he said. Bissonette said they didn’t finish the job either.
“They said due to the cold weather they couldn’t apply paint,” Bissonette said. They left with the repairs incomplete and his wallet $250 lighter.
“I just wanted them to go away, so I paid them their money,” he said.
But with the work unfinished, Bissonette went back to Craigslist again where he found another ad for a different mobile auto body repair business. This ad had pictures and promises. So he called and set up a meeting in an Arlington parking lot.
“They said it was going to look like new,” Bissonette said.
He paid them $250 in cash for the job.
Bissonette said these guys covered their shoddy work with green goop saying it would protect the paint. When he got home and washed it off he was horrified. He saw a scratched sandpaper surface and spray paint spattered on his windshield, mirror, and tire.
“It looks horrible,” he explained.
Bissonette then called NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit. And we called the numbers from both ads to set up meetings. We showed up at the first location in our station Chevrolet Tahoe, which had a dent. Our cameras were in tow.
We told a guy, who said his name was Tony, that some of his past customers were unhappy with his work.
“No comment at this point. I have to get in touch with my lawyer,” he said.
When we pressed further he got in his car and sped away.
We then called the number in the second ad and set up a time and place to meet.
When we got out of our SUV and identified ourselves, the repairman immediately covered his face, never got out of his car and left faster than the first guy.
“The Worst I’ve Ever Seen”
Brian Johnson, a certified collision repairman for Service King in Irving, evaluated Bissonette’s car.
”It is the worst I’ve ever seen for someone to have called that a finished product,” he said. “It looks like they used spray paint out of a can.”
He said he sees fly-by-night auto dent repairmen come out of the woodwork in the DFW area, especially after weather events like storms, hail and ice.
“Just since the beginning of this year, I have seen three cars personally with the same situation,” said Johnson.
And Johnson said the looks of Bissonette’s car are the least of his worries.
“There is probably no structural integrity left in that panel,” Johnson said.
In his opinion, because of how the work was done, the panel might not perform as it should in a wreck, potentially putting Bissonette at risk. He recommended replacing that panel. In total, the repairs would now cost $3,700.
Texas has no state agency that regulates collision repair, so it’s up consumers to do their homework.
Consumers can ask repairmen if they have certification from an organization like I-CAR, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair or ASE, the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. They should also ask about warranties. If a repairman doesn’t offer one, experts suggest finding someone else.
“You want to make sure the company is standing behind their work,” said Steve Sikes, Service King’s associate vice president of business development.
Experts also said any paint work needs to be done in a controlled environment, so if someone offers to paint outside, that’s likely a red flag too.
In the end, Bissonette’s plight struck a chord with Richardson-based Service King.
“It’s certainly unfortunate what you’ve had to deal with, with the subpar repairs,” Sikes said to Bissonette.
In a gesture of goodwill, the company, a supporter of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen, said it would fix his car for free, leaving Bissonette speechless and smiling from ear to ear.
The Enterprise Rent-A-Car location attached to this particular Service King location said it would also pick up the tab for his rental car while the repairs are done.
Bisonette said he learned his lesson and he’ll be less trusting next time and that he hopes his story helps others avoid being taken by rogue mobile dent repair businesses.
“I decided to call you because I don’t want this to happen, you know, to anybody else,” he said.